What do Matt Damon,  Sesame Street and Girl Rising have in common? We all love talking about toilets.

Earlier this week, Matt Damon participated in the ever popular Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS (shout out to an amazing action campaign!) , but he did more than post a chilling video.  Damon brought awareness to the crucial issues that surround water, sanitation and hygiene  in the developing world (known in development jargon as WASH) by tipping toilet water over his head.  

Damon, co founder of  Water.org, is just one voice in a star studded line-up speaking out about their love of proper sanitation.  Raya, a fuzzy green 6-year-old who calls Sesame Street home, educates adults and children all over the world about the important role bathroom facilities play in our daily lives. Even the United Nations has crowned November 19 World Toilet Day.

The buzz is building around WASH and with good reason. Water-related illnesses and a lack of WASH facilities cause hundreds of millions of school absences a year, and affect women and girls disproportionately.  

There are approximately 748 million people around the world living without a clean water source right now.  In such cases, clean water must be gathered from outside the home, usually at a great distance and on foot. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “girls under the age of 15 are twice as likely to be the family member responsible for gathering water.”  Water.org  estimated that 200 million hours are spent each day gathering water, that’s time not spent in school.

Likewise, the inaccessibility of toilets limits learning opportunities for girls and young women.  Without sufficient sanitary supplies or means of disposal, girls are often labelled as “dirty.”.  The shame of uncleanliness, fear of bullying and rejection cause many girls to stay home from school during their periods.   Still, even at home,  a scarcity of resources and hygiene education means that young women are at risk for dangerous and sometimes deadly infections.

Creating and maintaining WASH facilities not only ensures the health, education and economic potential of girls, it also improves their basic safety.   Out of the one billion people worldwide  forced to practice open defecation, girls and women are the most vulnerable to acts of sexual violence.    

By the UNDP’s count, WASH-related diseases and stigma cause 443 million missed school days a year.  That’s 443 million missed opportunities to read, write, calculate, hypothesize, test and learn.   Thankfully solutions to the global sanitation crisis exist and have been set in motion by communities, governments , organizations, and celebs like Damon and Raya the Muppet, who signs off every appearance with a simple, life-saving  reminder for everyone to wash their hands with soap and water.

To learn more about WASH programs around the world and get the latest loo news, check out our reading list below!

Reading List:

http://opendefecation.org/

http://water.org/

Meet Raya, the Sanitation Muppet

From the Field:  Keep the Girls at School

Sexual Violence on the Way to Water

One Small Improvement Makes A Big Change

Late for School After a Long Journey for a Drop to Drink

11 Facts About Water in the Developing World

UNICEF helps meet the critical water, sanitation & hygiene in Syria